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In Praise Of Slower Driving

Cars are designed to go fast, which is why they took over from horse-drawn transport and bicycles on the road. All modern cars, even the most sluggish and cumbersome, are capable of travelling at a speed that was once considered impossible – about 150 or so years ago, before the advent of the railway, it was believed by the scientific authorities that humans would suffocate if they travelled over 30 mph (about 48 km/h).
However, while modern cars can go three times this “fatal” speed with ease and some makes sold in Australia have their speeds limited (e.g. certain makes of BMW), we don’t always have to go as fast as we possibly can. Sometimes, there’s something to be said about driving a bit more slowly. So what can be said in favour of going slower?

1     It’s safer. Sure, cars have all the safety features that the engineers can think of, but sheer physics will win the day. If you lose control in spite of the ABS, ESP and all the rest of it, and smack into something solid, all that energy will be transferred to your car’s body and to your body. Carnage. This is why speed limits exist, why powerful cars are speed limited and why the cops get so snippy about leadfooted drivers.


2      You use less fuel. Again, it’s a matter of physics. The faster you go, the more energy is needed to get your car to that speed and to keep you there. And this energy comes from petrol or diesel, even in a hybrid vehicle such as the Toyota Prius. Slow down and you save money.


3      You put less stress on your car’s mechanics. Physics again – at higher speeds, more force is needed to alter the vehicle’s velocity – and the velocity changes when you change direction as well as when you slow down or speed up. Change the velocity aggressively or assertively, and this does increase the wear and tear on the tyres, the brake pads, the steering mechanism, etc.


4      When you’re in an unfamiliar place, you can find your way a bit more easily. It’s easy to miss landmarks and road signs – and that includes signs such as speed limits and arrows – when you’re going at a fair clip. How many times have you been barrelling along looking for a particular road only to miss your turning because by the time you had read the signpost and recognised the street name, you’d overshot?


5      To quote an old proverb, galloping horsemen see no flowers. If you are always in a hurry, you often miss some of the beautiful and interesting things around you. The truth of this old saw is often proved by people driving around Perth during June–November: take it slowly and you can appreciate the famous wildflowers; rush and they’re just a blur. And this doesn’t just apply to rural driving in the lusher parts of Western Australia – it also applies in downtown Sydney. If you take it at a more leisurely pace, you get a chance to notice things you wouldn’t otherwise – a small boutique or café, a quirky mural or an attractive/interesting looking person.

Sure, there are times when we have to make the most of the speed that our cars have on offer. And there are times when it’s fun to go faster (but within the speed limits!). But at times, it doesn’t hurt to slow down and enjoy the drive, as well as driving more safely and frugally.